Black Line Vs. Color: Odilon Redon Weighs In


Saturday, November 14, 2009

Odilon Redon:

“Black is the most essential of all colors. Above all, if I may say so, it draws its excitement and vitality from deep and secret sources of health… One must admire black. Nothing can debauch it. It does not please the eyes and awakens no sensuality. It is an agent of the spirit far more than the fine color of the palette or the prism. Thus a good lithograph is more likely to be appreciated in a serious country, where inclement nature compels man to remain confined to his home, cultivating his own thoughts, that is the say in the countries of the north rather than those of the south, where the sun draws us outside ourselves and delights us. Lithography enjoys little esteem in France, except when it has been cheapened by the addition of color, which produces a different result, destroying its specific qualities so that it comes to resemble a cheap colored print.

From The Graphic Works of Odilon Redon (Dover Publications, 1969) but I got it from Artists’ Books in the Modern Era 1870-2000 (Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, 2002)

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10 Responses to “Black Line Vs. Color: Odilon Redon Weighs In”
  1. blaise larmee says:


    this is a good book

  2. noel troll says:

    Wow, great quote. I love his assertions about black and the geographies that appreciate it. It's fun to think about, the cheapening of black by color.

  3. muck-man-husk says:

    nice to hear, yes, hum.
    but i'd like to hear that "frank" weigh in.

    i think, i hear he hates "black containment lines"
    i think he likes starting with plate steel
    or thick oils
    or a a fleshy bronze kind of delicate scheme
    and letting those lines land loose and gauzy
    like a fresh sheet over a sickly child

    but really, more like muscles over a spine
    or like alphabet soups
    over a nice broth
    but….does he like redon?

    i'll weigh in, i guess i do.
    i guess i dig his spiders,
    his dustballs,
    big time, sort of.
    that dirigible/eyeball rules, yes.

    black is the best, folks. are you kidding me?
    of course.
    why not?

  4. Mark P. Hensel says:

    I don't buy that geographical split but pure black lines definitely have their time and place. I think there can be somber color pieces and playful black lines — there's no need to be such an essentialist!

  5. Chris Lanier says:

    Redon's black and white images are probably his strongest ones, but the guy was hardly afraid of color.

  6. Frank Santoro says:

    Hunh. Well, for what it's worth I make all my colors up out of black and gray and then PRINT them as color. Using a monochromatic palette lets me choose the relationships when printing – it's freeing.

    But it can be limiting and make it hard for me to transition into using color directly. There are often tonal pairings that can be harder to see.

    Makes me think of Corben, He makes those amazing colors out of grays and then PRINTS it all in color.

    Dave Sim told me that, haha.

    And, as Mr. Lanier points out, Redon is a pretty great colorist. I think Redon is commenting on what black "reads as" to the eye and heart.

  7. muck-man-husk says:

    thank you for the explication, frank


  8. sam says:

    it's really weird, Redon's drawings/prints are so defined as far as tonal structures go but his paintings, which I like maybe even more, are all over the place. And they're super colorful coming from a guy who wrote this quote.
    I wonder what he would have said had he existed in the age of day-glo, CMYK, and RGB computer screens.

  9. John P. says:

    One of my favorite artists, Un'ichi Hiratsuka (a printmaker), basically let go of color after his early years.

    A quote:

    "Printing in black on white is often considered the first step of technique, but it is actually the final point. One own's handwriting has the accent of dark and light in a single line. A print is constructed from lines and surfaces on a two-dimensional surface and on it should be contained perspective, volume and color."

    "By working in black and white I am emphasizing the ink in traditional Japanese painting which should be combined with the expressive methods of the European style. The most beautiful range of color is black and white; Eastern people have inherited a sensitive sense of blood in black and white."

    Black contains all colors and white is emptied of all color, so you have the full range!

  10. I.M.A. Pelican says:

    I have a serious question. Why are the psychedelic patterns always B/W when I push on my eyeballs????

    Also: re/geographies of color: 9/10 of New York Subway riders will wear Black coats this year, as usual.You'd think Queen Victoria had just died or something.

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